Turning Down Electricity Use in the Bay Area

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Turning Down Electricity Use in the Bay Area

A plan is in the works for the San Francisco Bay Area to reach “zero net energy” in building electricity use by the year 2020 — meaning the nine-county area would use only as much electricity as could be produced from renewable sources.

A key recommendation in the Bay Area’s action plan is to replicate projects that include crowd-sourcing funds for solar panel installation. Credit: Oakland Local

Four local government agencies and a coalition of clean energy advocates have drafted a plan for the San Francisco Bay Area to reach “zero net energy” in building electricity use by the year 2020 — meaning the nine-county area would use only as much electricity as could be produced from renewable sources.

The Bay Area Renewable Power 2012-2013 Action Plan depends largely on retrofitting at least a quarter of existing buildings with renewable power and energy efficiency equipment, and installing such equipment in new buildings under construction. These buildings would produce at least as much energy on site as they use and the excess would power other buildings and factories. The draft plan sets a goal of developing at least 2,400 megawatts of local renewable power a year and of encouraging innovative financing and financial incentives for this work.

Its core element, dubbed BASE 2020 or “Bay Area Smart Energy 2020,” a blueprint drafted by the Pacific Environment on how to get to the zero net energy in eight years, was the topic of a lot of buzz at a conference hosted by the Local Clean Energy Alliance in Oakland late last week.

“This report shows what is possible — what can be done and what should be done,” said Al Weinrub, coordinator of alliance, as copies of the BASE 2020 plan were circulating among conference attendees.

“It shows it is feasible” to get to zero net energy in building power use in eight years “and demonstrates the problems are not technical, but political,” he continued. “We just need to organize that effort.”

Bruce Riordan of the Bay Area Joint Policy Committee, which is a liaison body working on the action plan for the government agencies involved, said implementing the plan would “create jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve health.”

Energy efficiency alone could reduce the electricity used in buildings by 25 to 30 percent from 2008 levels, according to the BASE 2020 outline. For instance, energy efficient updates to air conditioning systems could reduce the electricity consumed to cool buildings by 50 percent, the report indicates.

Making use of solar, biogas, geothermal, wind and energy storage technologies would also all be part of the equation for reaching the 2020 goal.

Buildings account for about 72 percent of electricity use in the U.S. and about 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, according to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

A key recommendation in the action plan — in fact, its first task listed — is to replicate the work of various innovators throughout the Bay Area in financing renewable energy upgrades or in reducing the costs of renewable energy production. It names 14 projects that should be replicated, including Oakland Solar Mosaic, which set up a crowd-source funding mechanism to finance solar photovoltaic installations on community buildings, and Kyoto USA’s HEliOS project, which has begun steps to put solar panels atop all schools in the Berkeley, Oakland and West Contra Costa County school districts.

The plan also suggests replicating some bigger, multi-city projects that are helping move the Bay Area toward zero net energy. Among them is the Marin Clean Energy community choice aggregation power system in Marin County, whereby eight cities and the county of Marin operate a power authority offering customers electricity that is 28-percent derived from renewable sources purchased from local generators. Marin Energy distributes locally produced renewable energy through the grid owned by and leased from Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

A second multi-city project is the East Bay Green Corridor’s attempt to streamline solar permitting regulations in eight cities from San Leandro and Oakland northward to Richmond. Carla Din, executive director of the Corridor, said doing so would reduce the cost of installing solar by 26 percent, by wiping out as much as three-quarters of the “soft” costs of planning, permitting and designing installations.

The Bay Area Renewable Power 2012-13 Action Plan is still a working draft.

Agencies behind the plan are the Association of Bay Area Governments, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission. About 40 collaborating nonprofit and investor groups are behind the plan as well.

Tags: infrastructureenergyoaklandsolar power

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